Tips for handling email overload

The Ritcey Report

Written by Iconic Group
May 24, 2018

Sometimes I wonder who’s the boss, my email inbox or me? I’m serious. I check and return my emails so promptly that the process becomes almost addictive. Consequently I decided to find out just how time-consuming email management actually is during the course of a working day.

Email: the second-most time-consuming activity

I knew email management was time-consuming and distracting, but I didn’t know how perniciously diverting it actually turns out to be. According to research released in 2012 by the McKinsey Global Institute in their ongoing analysis of Productivity, Competitiveness & Growth1, email is the second-most time-consuming activity for workers, next to ‘role-specific tasks.’

Self-interruption

Somewhat surprised by the finding, I checked the idea of ‘self-interruption’ on the internet and came up with some specific insights based on research compiled by Gloria Mark et al., ‘Email Duration, Batching and Self-interruption,2’ Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing:

11 | Average times per hour users check their email
84% | Share of user who keep their email in the backup at all times
87 | Average number of emails received per day
70% | Share of emails received within 6 seconds of receipt
64 | Average time, in seconds, that users took to resume tasks interrupted by email

Add it all up and you’ve got a major and potentially self-defeating problem on your hands – a clear and urgent danger to productivity and focus. If that’s the problem, what’s the solution?

The smartest way to use email at work

I discovered some practical suggestions about email management, published in The Wall Street Journal, and written by Andrew Blackman. The piece is called The Smartest Way to Use Email at Work.3

Distilled from the findings of Laura A. Dabbish and Robert E. Kraut, Carnegie Mellon University, and published in a paper entitled Email overload at work, Mr. Blackman proposes five principles that should govern email management.

As an introduction to these principles, Mr. Blackman reports that a company culture forcing employees to answer emails quickly may be especially difficult for highly conscientious people. He noted that email notifications caused such individuals higher stress than other people and made them unproductive in their work.

5 Tips

  1. By switching off email alerts while checking email every 45 minutes and taking action on messages helps reduce stress and allows people to feel in control.
  2. By using the delay send feature (some email programs require you to download an app to allow this feature) when replying to email during off hours so your inbox is cleared, you aren’t putting pressure on anybody else to respond.
  3. Since people reply to emails more quickly early in the week, that’s when you should send them if you want a rapid response.
  4. People reply more quickly between 8a.m. and noon – when they’re fresh.
  5. Don’t send an important email on Friday. Wait until Monday. It’s much more likely to be at the top of the recipient’s inbox.

Conclusion

  1. Educated email management is a critical part of professional productivity.
  2. Misused, email can be profoundly undermining.
  3. Email is a good servant, but a bad master.

Dave Ritcey, The Ritcey Team, Scotia Wealth Management


1 https://www.mckinsey.com/mgi/our-research/productivity-competitiveness-and-growth
2 https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/publication/email-duration-batching-and-self-interruption-patterns-of-email-use-on-productivity-and-stress/
3 http://www.paywallnews.com/life/The-Smartest-Ways-to-Use-Email-at-Work.S1-cQ0vmKf.html